The Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which received royal assent yesterday, ends trials relating to crimes committed during the Troubles and grants conditional immunity from prosecution to those taking part in investigations by a newly established independent commission for Collaborate on reconciliation and information recovery.
Many victims and their families strongly opposed this, saying it would prevent them from receiving justice after years of waiting and compound the trauma they had suffered.
Today a group of men and women who have lost family members or been seriously injured themselves have come together and filed papers in Belfast High Court to request an urgent hearing on the new law.
Martina Dillon, John McEvoy and Brigid Hughes dispute the law’s denial of investigations and lack of adequate investigations, while Lynda McManus challenges the ban on civil claims. The victims and represented by Phoenix Law, Belfast.
In a press statement, Amnesty said the British government had been warned of the possibility of a legal challenge while the bill was being passed in Parliament.
Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Northern Ireland, said: “We have made it clear that if this bill were to become law, we would continue to stand with victims and fight against this unacceptable denial of rights.”
“The British government has blatantly disregarded the rights of victims and pushed through a law that only they wanted. This heinous act of injustice cannot be allowed to continue. It is now up to the courts to right this historic injustice.
“The Troubles Act betrays victims in the cruelest way possible, compounding their years of trauma by denying them the truth and justice to which they are entitled. Despite the government’s thinly veiled attempts to portray the law as an act of reconciliation, it is clearly designed to hold perpetrators above the law and away from responsibility.
“The burden of the legal challenge must not only be borne by the victims. The clock is ticking for the Irish government to commit and accept an intergovernmental action at the European Court of Human Rights. We urge them to do so quickly.”
Martina Dillon, whose husband Seamus Dillon was shot dead in 1997 and is under investigation, said: “Every day my heart aches and longs for my husband and the trauma of his murder is made worse by this law.”
“Truth and justice are not much to ask for, we shouldn’t have to fight for them for decades. I will fight this repressive legislation in memory of my husband and in solidarity with other victims who are denied their rights. The clock is ticking for the victims. “We hope that the courts will deal with this quickly.”
Darragh Mackin, partner at Phoenix Law, said: “From the outset, international human rights experts have warned the government that this law violates rights and fails to put victims at the heart of the processes to date.” Access to justice is a cornerstone of everyone democratic society. These victims, with the support of Amnesty International, are trying to quickly put an end to this serious attack on rights.
“The government’s motives are hidden. The victims have a message for this government. See you in court.”
John McEvoy, who was seriously injured and narrowly escaped death in a gun attack in 1992, said: “The past is still the present, I narrowly escaped death and live with the effects of that gun attack every day.”
“As victims, we have been affected in different ways, but we are all at risk of losing out to this law that grossly denies us our rights. That’s why we came together to challenge it. We are committed to getting answers and accountability, we won’t. Stop fighting until that happens.”
The four applicants are:
Martina Dillon’s husband Seamus was shot dead outside the Glengannon Hotel in Cookstown on December 27, 1997. The circumstances of the murder suggest a collusion. There are still living suspected perpetrators who were recently interviewed. The coroner has opened an inquest into the murder of Seamus Dillon and ordered that the inquest will be an Article 2 inquest. The coroner heard the first part of the inquest in April 2023 and the inquest is now adjourned pending a public interest immunity hearing.
John McEvoy was seriously injured and narrowly escaped death in a gun attack on people at the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo, County Down on November 19, 1992. Another man present, Peter McCormack, was killed. On October 7, 2022, Judge Humphreys issued a ruling stating, “The new material constitutes plausible evidence of significant state collusion in the Thierafurth Inn shootings.” He found that the state “failed to “to conduct an effective investigation within a reasonable time in accordance with Articles 2 or 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
Brigid Hughes’ husband, Anthony, was killed by state agents in Loughgall on May 8, 1987. In 2001, the European Court of Human Rights found that the investigation into Anthony Hughes’ death up to that point had breached Article 2. Following this ruling, the Advocate General for Northern Ireland opened a new investigation.
Lynda McManus’ father James McManus (now deceased) was seriously injured in a gun attack on the Sean Graham Bookmakers on Ormeau Road, Belfast on February 5, 1992.
In this attack, five people were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, and other people were injured. Her father was one of those shot during the attack and sustained injuries so severe that he was given last rites at the scene.
He also suffered serious psychological injuries. In approximately February 2022, the Police Ombudsman released a public statement related to the death (and other related deaths), pointing to collusive behavior by security forces in connection with this attack and a subsequent flawed investigation into the death. Lynda filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages on May 17, 2022.